One England captain back between the shafts, another back in the quicksand and sinking fast. Lawrence Dallaglio, the World Cup winner and three-times Lions tourist who retired from international rugby 17 months ago and then unretired himself when he realised he could still play a bit, returned to the Red Rose squad yesterday ahead of the Six Nations Championship, which begins a fortnight on Saturday. Sadly for one of his fellow titans, the news was not nearly so positive.
Phil Vickery, the Gloucester tight-head prop and all-round good egg, suffered the latest in a debilitating series of back injuries while turning in an inspirational Premiership performance at Saracens 11 days ago and was not considered for immediate Six Nations duty. It may well be that he does not play in the tournament at all - or, indeed, in any competition for anyone.
Gloucester are awaiting results of tests carried out over the last week and if, as they fear, the diagnosis is one of severe disc problems, a third bout of surgery will be needed to go alongside that performed on his neck some years ago. At very nearly 30, Vickery might see it as an operation too far.
England are well equipped in the propping department. Matt Stevens, of Bath, can play on both sides of the scrum, and Andy Robinson, the national coach, is in the comfortable position of being able to call upon Julian White, of Leicester, who anchored the Lions scrum in New Zealand last summer, in Vickery's stead. But this is a crying shame none the less. The Cornishman was in the process of hitting his highest peak for some years; Dean Ryan, the director of rugby at Gloucester, described him as "playing the rugby of an angry man". Vickery will be angry now, that's for sure.
The 33-year-old Dallaglio's situation had been the talk of the town for weeks. Leicester's Martin Corry, the current captain, is Robinson's first-choice No 8, and there is little obvious prospect of either man shifting to the blind-side flank, where spare No 8s are traditionally to be found. Might the coach deposit the most celebrated rugby-playing Londoner of his generation on the bench? Might he leave him out altogether when he comes to pick his 22-man party for the game with Wales at Twickenham on 4 February? We will have a better idea following next week's three-day squad session at Loughborough University.
By picking 36 players rather than the expected 30, Robinson has played an old trick dear to his predecessor, Sir Clive Woodward, and spared himself an awkward decision or two. Those who did not enjoy the most prosperous of international outings in the autumn - Mark van Gisbergen and Matt Dawson of Wasps, and Mike Tindall and James Simpson-Daniel of Gloucester - are still on board, as is the Leicester flanker Lewis Moody, despite his lengthy suspension, which expires a week before the Wales game.
Robinson was not giving a great deal away yesterday. "It's great to be able to include Lawrence," he said. "He has done well for Wasps and his appetite to play for England again is huge. However, he knows as well as anyone that the back row is a massively competitive area and like any player he will need to work hard to be selected. Martin Corry will be the captain for the Six Nations - he was inspirational during the autumn and we believe he is the man to lead England throughout the tournament."
There were some signs of the coach's thinking in terms of next year's World Cup in France, however. Tom Varndell, the rapid young wing from Leicester, has held his place in the senior squad despite a scratchy month or so at club level, while Magnus Lund, the uncapped open-side flanker from Sale, has broken into the élite for the first time.
Lund, a 22-year-old forward from Manchester, twice played World Cup age-group rugby and also caught the eye as a member of England's seven-a-side set-up. His senior status at Sale, where he has been in blinding form all season, moves him ahead in the pecking order of Tom Rees, of Wasps, who more often than not finds himself manacled to the bench.
England coach's enlarged squad of 36
S Abbott (Wasps) Age 27 Caps 44
O Barkley (Bath) 24, 14
B Cohen (Northampton) 27, 48
M Cueto (Sale) 26, 11
M Dawson (Wasps) 33, 72
H Ellis (Leicester) 23, 8
A Goode (Leicester) 25, 2
C Hodgson (Sale) 25, 22
J Lewsey (Wasps) 29, 37
J Noon (Newcastle) 26, 12
P Richards (Gloucester) 27, 0
J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester) 23, 8
M Tindall (Gloucester) 27, 44
M van Gisbergen (Wasps) 28, 1
T Varndell (Leicester) 20, 1
T Voyce (Wasps) 25, 4
S Borthwick (Bath) 26, 22
A Brown (Gloucester) 26, 0
G Chuter (Leicester) 29, 0
M Corry (Leicester, capt) 32, 40
L Dallaglio (Wasps) 33, 73
L Deacon (Leicester) 25, 1
J Forrester (Gloucester) 24, 2
P Freshwater (Perpignan) 32, 1
D Grewcock (Bath) 33, 59
C Jones (Sale) 25, 6
M Lund (Sale) 22, 0
L Mears (Bath) 26, 1
L Moody (Leicester) 25, 34
P Sanderson (Worcester) 28, 9
S Shaw (Wasps) 33, 29
A Sheridan (Sale) 26, 4
M Stevens (Bath) 23, 7
S Thompson (Northampton) 27, 42
J White (Leicester) 32, 28
J Worsley (Wasps) 28, 44
* Sat 4 February
England v Wales (Twickenham, 15.30)
Ireland v Italy (Lansdowne Road, 13.30)
* Sun 5 February
Scotland v France (Murrayfield, 15.00)
* Sat 11 February
France v Ireland (Stade de France, 14.30)
Italy v England (Stadio Flaminio, 17.00)
* Sun 12 February
Wales v Scotland (Millennium Stadium, 15.00)
* Sat 25 February
France v Italy (Stade de France, 15.00)
Scotland v England (Murrayfield, 17.30)
* Sun 26 February
Ireland v Wales (Lansdowne Road 15.00)
* Sat 11 March
Ireland v Scotland (Lansdowne Road, 15.30)
Wales vs Italy (Millennium Stadium, 13.30)
* Sun 12 March
France v England (Stade de France, 16.00)
* Sat 18 March
England v Ireland (Twickenham, 17.30)
Italy v Scotland (Stadio Flaminio, 14.30)
Wales v France (Millennium Stadium, 15.30)Reuse content